28 January 2013
Ukrainian Bishop Peter Stasiuk celebrates the Divine Liturgy on Epiphany in Melbourne, Australia.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Anyone who thinks Australia is just kangaroos and koala bears should check out Sean Sprague’s profile of the continent’s diverse religions from 2007:
Once Europeans gained a foothold on the continent, the native population, estimated at about 350,000 at the time of settlement, began its precipitous decline, due mainly to infectious diseases. Open land, a gold rush and the building of railroads generated an immigration boom — not limited to Europeans — in the mid-19th century. But reactionary, anti-Asian discriminatory practices soon generated laws restricting the settlement of Australia to northern Europeans alone. This “White Australia Policy,” enacted nationally in 1901, controlled immigration for more than four decades, until reforms in the second half of the 20th century all but eliminated its effectiveness.
In 1975, the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which ended these racially based immigration policies. Subsequently, the country has seen an influx of non-European immigrants. In addition, the indigenous population has rebounded.
Among these recent arrivals have been Eastern Christians — Armenians and Assyrians; Chaldean, Maronite, Melkite Greek and Ukrainian Greek Catholics; and Coptic, Greek, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Syriac Orthodox — whose small but vibrant communities are developing a multicultural Australia. To learn more, I visited three.
Over a lunch of New Zealand mussels, kangaroo steaks and a bottle of local cabernet sauvignon, Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who prepared the meal with relish, spoke about his small but growing community of Ukrainian Greek Catholics.
“Our liturgy attracts many outsiders, and several hundred have crossed over to join us, especially people wanting to become clergy.”
The Canadian-born bishop is responsible for 34,000 souls scattered throughout Australia and New Zealand. Most Ukrainian Greek Catholics, however, live in Melbourne and Sydney.
“There are 1.5 million Latin [Roman] Catholics in Melbourne, and many of our people attend their churches if they are closer to where they live.”
This back-and-forth is representative of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic experience in Australia, Bishop Peter said, an experience not unlike that of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in North America.
Read more about Diversity Down Under in the May 2007 issue of ONE.
25 January 2013
Tags: Armenia Eastern Churches Greek Catholic Church Coptic Australia
Father Mezo hears confessions at Protection of the Virgin Mary Church in Nyírascéd, Hungary. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
In 2006, ONE reported on Greek Catholics holding on to their faith and their traditions in a village in rural Hungary:
Wherever he goes in the Hungarian village of Nyírascád, Father György Mezo is greeted with the traditional “Dícsoség Jézus Krísztusnak,” or “Glory to Jesus Christ.” Most of the residents are Greek Catholics, and Father Mezo has headed the village’s Greek Catholic parish, Protection of the Virgin Mary, for 15 years. Life is not easy in this village in northeastern Hungary, near the Romanian border. The birthrate is down. Couples used to have five or more children, but providing for a family that size has not been possible for the last 50 years or so. Even now, in this post-Communist era of the European Union, forestry, the main occupation of most villagers, is not the industry it once was. Most couples have one child these days. And jobs are scarce too. Many villagers work in nearby cities or, if they are well educated, they go to Budapest.
But as the world changes around them, the villagers of Nyírascád hold on to their traditions, which is why Father Mezo is held in such high regard.
“People have preserved the traditional rites, both liturgical and legal,” said Gyula Katona, Nyírascád’s mayor since 1973. He said the village was an exception to most of Hungary, where Communist rule and the enticements of the modern, secular world had combined to dilute the faith. Even under Communist rule, “catechism remained in the schools because the villagers wanted it there.”
“Processions were held each year, at Easter and on the feastday of the church,” he continued. “In other villages they held processions juston the church grounds, but here they paraded through the streets. From Good Friday to Easter morning, the holy tomb is always guarded by young men, as is traditional. We could do all this because tradition is very strong here.”
Read more about Holding on in Hungary from the May 2006 issue of ONE.
24 January 2013
Tags: Eastern Europe Hungary Greek Catholic Church
One of the many ancient manuscripts found in Debra Zion. (photo: Sean Sprague)
On 24 January, the Latin church marks the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of writers and journalists. In 2004, writer and journalist Sean Sprague paid a visit to Ethiopia and discovered some treasures of the written word:
Ringed by volcanic hills, Lake Ziway is known for its birds. On a typical day African pygmy geese, yellow-billed storks, white pelicans and other birds swoop over the 187-square-mile lake in central Ethiopia. Ornithology aside, there is another reason to visit Lake Ziway: Its largest island, Tullu Gudo, shelters the oldest active religious community south of Ethiopia’s Christian heartland, Debra Zion. Tradition holds that Tullu Gudo once housed the Ark of the Covenant, said to contain the Ten Commandments. …
The original church of Debra Zion and its monastery fell into ruin by the early 19th century, but its treasures — various ancient Christian manuscripts and icons — were preserved. … At the back of the Debra Zion church is a padlocked door behind which are the island’s historic treasures.
Looking over the various manuscripts, Abune Gregorius was particularly interested in one book, a history of the saints, written in Ge’ez. This ancient language predates the Aksumite empire, but remains the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Read more about these treasures and Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 issue of ONE.
23 January 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Orthodox Ethiopian Christianity
A local woodcarver sits outside his home in Kosmach. (photo: Petro Didula)
In 2004, we turned a spotlight on the Hutsuls, nestled in the Carpathian Mountains:
Tucked into the Carpathian Mountains in southwestern Ukraine, Kosmach is the center of the 500,000-strong Greek Catholic and Orthodox Hutsul community.
The 13th-century Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus — which includes parts of present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine — is an essential chapter in Hutsul history. Many of those who survived the ruthless devastation of their homeland, peasants mostly, headed for the hills, seeking refuge in the Carpathians. ...
The Soviets frowned on tradition, particularly those traditions rooted in religion. But the Hutsuls took pride in their distinctive dress, dances and songs, says Vasyl Markus, editor of the Encyclopedia of the Ukrainian Diaspora and a professor at Loyola University in Chicago. Families continued to decorate Easter eggs, orpysanky, as well as practice embroidery and other examples of folk art. And unlike most parts of the Soviet Union, religious expression never really wavered. But that expression is not purely Christian.
“The Christian faith in the area is nuanced,” says Father Hunchak. “There is faith, but it is not exactly Christian, rather half-Christian, half-pagan … a mystical faith. In the Carpathian Mountains, there are people who know about trees, plants, nature.”
Read more about the Faith and Tradition of the Hutsuls in the November 2004 issue of ONE.
22 January 2013
Tags: Ukraine Russia Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Ukrainian Orthodox Church Belarus
Seniors play chess and backgammon in a Yerevan, Armenia, park. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Four years ago, we took readers to Armenia, for a glimpse at some of the challenges facing many of the elderly:
The income gap in Armenia has widened and poverty remains widespread. Armenia’s most vulnerable citizens, children, the disabled and the elderly, have experienced a decline — at times dramatic — in the quality of their lives.
Most senior citizens depend on pensions to survive. And though the average pension has increased by $10 over the last five years, the cost of living has risen, mitigating the effectiveness of any increase. Today a typical pension pays a third of what is considered necessary for the average person to maintain the minimum standard of living in Armenia.
“The problem with raising pensions is quite difficult,” said Anahit Gevorgian, who heads the Elderly Issues Division in the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues. “Paying higher pensions is impossible in a country with widespread unemployment.
“Today there is just 0.9 worker for every pensioner, when there should be at least two workers to pay for one person’s pension.” About 11 percent of Armenia’s citizens are 65 or older.
Read more about Pensioners in Crisis in the January 2008 issue of ONE.
18 January 2013
Iconographer Eliseea Papacioc works on an icon in her studio in the village of Bradetu, Romania. (photo: Andreea Câmpeanu)
Last year, we visited Romania and met an extraordinary Romanian Orthodox nun whose specialty is iconography:
Iconography did not come easily to Sister Eliseea. In the beginning, she struggled with the authenticity of her writing. “Once I understood that these icons should only be made with never-ending prayer, I realized I could not write them, because I could not pray. And I was a nun,” she admits.
“Your prayer becomes the icon, and the icon becomes prayer again for the one who has it in his home and prays in front of it. It’s all mystery, a real and continuous link to God,” she explains, as she sits in her workroom’s red armchair and sips a cup of tea.
Now, when Sister Eliseea writes, she prays nonstop. She follows a simple daily routine, which begins and ends in prayer. Each morning, she wakes up at dawn and reads from the Psalms. “That’s where I get all my sap, all my spirit,” she says.
Read more about A Romanian Renaissance, and see examples of her work, in the January 2012 issue of ONE.
17 January 2013
Tags: Sisters Prayers/Hymns/Saints Icons Romania
Violette Elias squeezes pomegranates to make molasses at her orchard in Kafarchakna, Lebanon. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
Did you know that in some traditions the forbidden fruit in Eden wasn’t the apple, but the pomegranate?
We take a closer look at the fruit and its history in the current issue of ONE:
For Middle East Christians, pomegranates frequently appear as a motif in iconography and sacred art. Patterns woven in liturgical vestments as well as Christian metalwork often prominently feature the fruit.
According to tradition, the pomegranate — broken or bursting open — symbolizes the fullness of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. During Christmas, families in the Middle East decorate their homes with likenesses of bursting pomegranates.
Orthodox Christians often add pomegranate seeds to koliva, a dish of sweetened boiled wheat. Used primarily in memorial liturgies, koliva symbolizes the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom. And for some Eastern Christians, the pomegranate — not the apple — is the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Muslims, too, believe pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise, though they are not associated with evil. Pomegranates appear in the Quran on three occasions, as examples of the good things God creates.
For Jews, pomegranates, with their numerous seeds, symbolize fertility. According to tradition, each pomegranate contains 613 seeds — the same number of mitzvoth, or commandments of the Torah. It is also believed Moses received a pomegranate as proof of the Promised Land’s fertility. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, many families celebrate with pomegranates.
Inhabitants of the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Persia have prized pomegranates for millennia. Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a sign of ambition and prosperity. In ancient Persia, the fruit symbolized fertility.
In ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate plays a key role in the explanation of the seasons. According to legend, Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnapped Persephone — the daughter of Zeus, the father of gods and men. He took her to the underworld, where she lived as his wife.
Fate dictated that anyone who consumed food or drink while in the underworld must spend eternity there. Knowing the laws of fate, Persephone declined all food and drink. But, Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds. As a result, when Zeus commanded Hades to return Persephone, she was forever condemned to spend four months out of every year in the underworld. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, grieved over her daughter’s punishment and refused to allow any crops to grow during those four months, a period which became winter.
The use and importance of pomegranates in traditional cuisine varies widely in the Middle East and nearby regions.
Read more about Lebanon’s Fruitful Trade — and discover a recipe for using pomegranates — in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
15 January 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
Father John Ariekal leads a congregation of Dalits in Pappala in prayer. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the current issue of the magazine, we visit India and meet the Christian Dalits, the “untouchable” caste facing discrimination and fighting for equality:
The highest caste, the Brahmin, traditionally pursued religious vocations and served as priests and spiritual leaders. They also made, upheld and taught the law. Ranked second is the Kshatriya caste, to which warriors and the military elite belonged. Next in rank is the Vaishya caste, which traditionally included cattle herders, merchants, traders and some artisans. Ranked fourth is the Shudra caste, made up of artisans, farmers and laborers.
At the very bottom of the caste system are the Dalits, below more than 3,000 sub-castes. Considered subhuman and “untouchable” until the 19th century, Dalits were treated as slaves to upper castes — denied even the most basic civil, political, economic and social rights.
The Dalits’ untouchable status dictated where they could live, work, worship, eat, collect water and even walk or sit in public places. They could only socialize and marry within their caste. They were prohibited from receiving an education, including learning to read and write. And for centuries, they were required to hide themselves in the event members of Brahmin caste approached, so as not to pollute their purity.
India gained independence from British rule in 1947, and in 1950 the Constitution of India took effect. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste or tribe, specifically enumerating the groups historically oppressed, including Dalits, in the provisions “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes.” About a quarter of India’s 1.2 billion people belongs to one of these scheduled castes and tribes.
The Constitution also stipulates for “Reservation,” a system of affirmative action that sets aside a certain number of positions in government and enrollment slots in public universities for members of the scheduled castes and tribes. Yet despite legal protections and reservation, caste-based discrimination persists throughout the subcontinent.
“It’s very hard to be a Dalit,” says Dr. Simon John, chairman of the Backward People Development Corporation and a Christian who lives in Pathanamthitta, a predominantly non-Dalit area in the central Travancore region of Kerala. “I don’t face the first degree of untouchability as my father faced. They don’t ask me to step aside. Nowadays, they just ignore you. They don’t recognize your presence wherever you are. I face it at the higher levels, because of my family tradition, my education and where I live. But still my problem is the passive attitude, off-hand comments, non-recognition of my existence in my student days, my work days and even at present.
Read more about India’s Christian Untouchables in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
14 January 2013
Tags: India Indian Christians Indian Catholics Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
A Rosary sister greets a Bedouin child in the abandoned ruins of old Smakieh.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
Last year, we visited the Christians of Jordan’s Kerak plateau, and found a resilient group of people held together by faith:
In the cramped living room of his house in the Jordanian village of Smakieh, 90-year-old Ghasan Hijazine sits among a small army of children, grandchildren and extended family, reminiscing about his childhood.
In those days, he says, people lived in byut sha’ar (literally “houses of hair” in Arabic), or tents made of camel hair, which were pitched on the dusty, wind-beaten hillsides surrounding the village.
“People lived off farming. If they grew something, they ate it. If not, they didn’t eat,” says the elderly man, who apparently does not remember that period with much affection.
Mr. Hijazine bears the scars of a troubled past: He has no hands and only one leg. He lost his limbs laying mines on the Israeli border in the 1960’s. His ice-blue eyes, however, are still bright and full of laughter.
The Hijazine clan is Christian, as are all residents of Smakieh and the nearby village of Hmoud. The two villages represent the last entirely Christian settlements in Jordan. Located on the Kerak plateau, one of Jordan’s poorest areas, neither area has enjoyed a golden age.
Life was hard, continues Mr. Hijazine. People were poor and often cold and hungry. They eked a meager existence from farming small plots of land and keeping livestock.
“I didn’t have a childhood,” adds his wife, Teresa.
Every few months, a priest from Kerak — the regional hub — would visit Smakieh. He would live, eat and pray with the people in their tents. The priest also served as their doctor and educator.
Those days, however, have long passed.
The Hijazines now live in a modern house of cinderblock and plaster. They also expect all their grandchildren to leave the village to attend university when the time comes.
Though Mrs. Hijazine dresses in a somewhat traditional manner, wearing a black headscarf over long, thick braids, she embraces modern- day conveniences, cooking time-honored recipes with a gas stove.
As do most Jordanians, the Christians of the Kerak area express pride about their tribal past. But nostalgia for the old days is hard to find on the Kerak plateau. For generations, these villagers have struggled to achieve a better life, a fight that often has meant leaving behind tribal customs. Now, young and old have their eyes fixed firmly on the future. They want to talk about the Internet, not about camels and sheep; about college degrees, not tents and traditions.
Read more about the Kerak plateau in A Bridge to Modern Life from the May 2012 issue of ONE.
9 January 2013
A Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest administers Communion outside the Basilian monastery in Krekhiv, north of Lviv. To learn about Ukrainian village life, read What's Next for Ukraine's Villages? from the March 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Petro Didula)
Tags: Ukraine Village life Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Lviv